Despite looking like a rabbit or squirrel, a chinchilla is actually classified as a rodent. Native to South America, they’re loved for their super soft, highly dense fur, which makes them irresistible to stroke. Unfortunately, this soft fur is also much loved by not only the native people of the Andes mountains, where chinchillas originate, but fur coat fans of the Western world, which has lead to 90% of the wild chinchilla population being wiped out in the last 15 years.
Chinchillas are popular pets, but caring for chinchillas is not easy and they are not a recommended choice for a pet-keeping novice, as they’re very sensitive to high temperatures, require a lot of exercise and regular baths in pumice dust.
One of the biggest problems encountered by chinchilla owners is that of their pet’s teeth. Chinchillas have two sets of teeth – the long teeth you can see at the front of their mouths, and the molars which are located further back in the mouth. Chinchilla teeth keep growing throughout their lives, and to combat teeth overgrowth, they like to gnaw on wood and hard surfaces to keep their teeth at a manageable level. Pet shops sell a variety of gnawing stones and toys which encourage chinchillas to gnaw and wear their teeth down.
Another way to keep your chinchilla’s teeth in check is with a good quality hay. A good quality hay, such as Timothy hay, is ideal for this, as it’s a tough grass which means the chinchilla has to really grind their teeth on it, and wear its teeth down as a result. Cheaper hays can be soft, and do not offer the same resistance as Timothy hays, allowing the back teeth to grow without regulation.
If you suspect your chinchilla has overgrown teeth, look out for symptoms such as drooling, and problems with chewing and swallowing food. While it’s easy for anyone to see overgrowth problems with the long front teeth, the molars at the back of the mouth are just as likely to become overgrown, and these are difficult to see without the kind of equipment seen at your veterinarians. If you suspect tooth overgrowth, your vet is probably the only person who can give you a definitive answer.